FGS History, Part V

FGS History: Looking Back

Looking Back, Part V: 1995–2000 by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking

The growth experienced in the preceding five years continued unabated. Membership soared from 411 in 1995 to 560 in December 2000, a more than 35% increase. 1998 also marked the first time FGS held members from all 50 states and Canada. It is estimated that this count represents more than 500,000 individual genealogists.

Conference attendance also rose from an average of 1284 attendees between 1995 and 1999, to a spectacular count of 1999 registrations at Salt Lake City in 2000. Earlier conferences in Seattle, Washington (1995), Rochester, New York (1996), Dallas, Texas (1997), Cincinnati, Ohio, 1998, and St. Louis, Missouri (1999) were equally well-enjoyed. The Cincinnati event featured, for the first time, a special track sponsored and presented by the Association of Professional Genealogists. At Salt Lake City, the first track devoted to Family History Center staff and volunteers was enthusiastically received.

A Permanent Business Office

The ability to grow and prosper in an orderly manner can be attributed largely to the establishment of a permanent office and the engagement of a professional office manager. In late 1995, the FGS business office moved to Richardson, Texas. Here it would be staffed by Madilyn Coen Crane, who accepted more than 100 boxes of supplies and files from Tamara and David Rencher, former office managers in Utah. In Summer 1998, the Cranes moved to Austin, Texas, and the office had a new home.

A Web Presence

The first quarter of 1996 brought an expanded and sophisticated Web presence, one of the first national genealogy groups to utilize the opportunities of a Home Page. A new highly sophisticated Web site was designed and implemented by Rod and Madilyn Crane and introduced in 2000.

In 1997, a partnership was formed with Ancestry, Incorporated, whereby Ancestry provided a Web site environment for FGS and its member societies. In 1998, Society Hall was "born;" it was officially launched in 1999-2000, with the support of MyFamily.com (new corporate name of Ancestry.com). Society Hall was the first "one-stop" on-line directory for visitors to easily locate genealogical and historical societies throughout the country. Societies were able to contribute to and update their page in Society Hall. This provides an opportunity for even the smallest member society to maintain a Web presence at no cost to them.


In 1997 Curt B. Witcher became the second recipient of the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award, which was established in 1994 and presented first posthumously to Rabbi Stern. In 1999, Marsha Hoffman Rising was the recipient.

In 2000, two additional awards were established. The first, the Archivists Award, was presented to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and accepted by NARA’s chief information officer, L. Reynolds Cahoon. A special award, in recognition of his national leadership as director of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System project, was presented to Curt B. Witcher.

Some Milestones

Ancestors Series: In 1995, FGS endorsed to its member societies, the ten-part series that was televised on Public Broadcasting Service channels throughout the country. FGS encouraged donations and provided promotional opportunities for the KBYU produced-programs titled, Ancestors.

Teleconference: In 1996, FGS joined with the Ohio Genealogical Society to offer quality televised programming at remote locations via satellite. Mary Bowman managed and implemented the four programs, which ran for three hours each on a single topic and featured a nationally-known speaker and a large syllabus.

FORUM added three columns (first new columns since 1993 when Strays was inaugurated). In 1997 the Editor’s Craft by Sharon Carmack began (became Editor’s & Writer’s Craft in 2000); and the following year, a column on Teaching Genealogy began (became Web Spinnings in 1999 by Michael Neill). In 1999, a six-issue column, Librarians Serving Genealogists, first appeared. Other major changes were in Fall 1996, when Dawne Slater-Putt assumed responsibility for Ethnic/International and 1997, when Paul Milner replaced Marsha Rising as Book Review Editor. In 1997, began regular spring article on Genealogical Education opportunities across the country (week-long institutes and workshops). FORUM continued to regularly promote Family History Month, begun in 1990, by the Monmouth County (NJ) Genealogy Club.

Records Preservation and Access: The joint RP&A committee continued to work well. FGS in connection with the National Genealogical Society, sought to identify records that must be preserved for genealogical research and to identify means of preserving them. The committee presented the genealogy community to the National Archives on a number of preservation issues, including the reconfiguration of the regional field offices faced by NARA.

Celebrating two decades of service: A 20th birthday celebration was held in Rochester, in 1996, with a dinner honoring FGS founders and former and current officers. As the Federation began its 3rd decade of service to the genealogical community, President David E. Rencher outlined four major goals: 1) to expand the Federation’s publications; 2) to expand knowledge of the Federation, its mission, and its many programs throughout the genealogical community; 3) continuing to bring the highest quality educational and networking experience to the genealogical community in the form of national conferences with the growing Conferences for the Nation’s Genealogists; and 4) rededicate itself to marshaling the resources of the genealogical community..

Assistant Archivist

In 1996, good news was received by the genealogical community. L. Reynolds Cahoon was named Assistant Archivist of the United States. Mr. Cahoon had a strong genealogical background, having been managing director of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and executive vice-president of the Genealogical Society of Utah.


On 23 March 1995, the National Genealogical Society, in cooperation with the Federation of Genealogical Societies, submitted a report to the U.S. Postal Service requesting them to investigate the mail order business know as Halbert’s, Inc. The complaint that was registered concerned false representation and was followed by hundreds of individual letters written by genealogists. Dr. Helen Hinchliff, chairman of the Ethics Committee, spearheaded the investigation by NGS and FGS.

Project: Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System

The ongoing joint project between the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Genealogical Society of Utah, the National Archives, and the Civil War Trust, began with the first entry of a soldier's name on 28 April 1993. The project reached its 50% completion mark by Winter 1997 and a year later was just over 80% complete. By February 2000, entries were deemed 95% complete.

Project: Stern/NARA Gift Fund

1996, in an unprecedented and exceptional donation, Broderbund, who marketed the Family Tree Maker genealogical software system, made a $10,000 gift to the fund. In 1998, announcement of A Million Dollar Project to raise funds to microfilm the War of 1812 pension and bounty-land warrant records (indexed and unindexed files which include some Revolutionary War veterans) and the U. S. Colored Troop (USCT) Compiled Service Records. By the end of 1998, fund contributions topped $39,000. During this year, Broderbund offered Matching Grants for the fund, agreeing to match grants up to $10,000. In 1999, the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society contributed $5,000 to the general fund, one of the most significant donations from a genealogy organization.

Project: Publications

A FGS Member Directory was published in 1995, 1997, and 1999. Complimentary copies went to each FGS member organization and other copies were sold. This valuable work provided in-depth information on member organizations who replied to surveys about their group.

A 2000 revision titled, Management Handbook: A Guide for the Organization and Management of Genealogical Societies was edited by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. This replaced the 1992 revision by Betty Robertson Kaufman of a 1983 work.

In 1996, Bylaws Workbook: A Handbook for New & Established Societies was prepared by Marcia Struthers Lindley (Tucson, Arizona).

Society Strategy Papers: five titles were added in 1996; two in 1997; one in 1998 and four new and two revised in 1999. In 2000, eight new and six revised titles brought the total number of papers available to forty, almost double the 1995 count. These papers were proving both useful and popular and readers were suggesting topics for additional papers.


The Delegate Digest continued to inform member societies through their chosen representative. In 2000, following the resignation of editor Sammie Townsend Lee, Sandra Luebking became the editor of the Digest. At each conference, a Delegate Luncheon and Caucus was well attended by those appointed.

Delegate scholarships were offered in 1999 and 2000. 1999 winners: Jonelle Ellis Russell (Sonoma County Genealogical Society, CA), Patricia Kerr Thompson (Montana State Genealogical Society); and Jill Frese (Riley County Genealogical Society, Manhattan, Kansas). The 2000 winner was Sandra Studebaker of the Studebaker Family Association.


Two presidents managed the Federation during this fifth era. Curt B. Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, completed his term in 1996. David E. Rencher served from 1997-2000. During this time, FGS President Rencher became the Director of the Libraries Division of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responsible for the Family History Library in salt Lake City, the Family Search Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Family History Centers worldwide, and the Public Outreach function for the Family History Department.


This concludes the history of the past 25 years of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. The present success of the Federation is the result of countless individuals whose names should have appeared within this brief history, but did not. Whether contributing a significant single contribution or long and exemplary service, they have provided the foundation for what we know today as the Federation. Thank you all: past officers, directors, committee chairs, organizations which have supported the Federation through membership or by other means, and the genealogical community which continues to recognize the Federation as its collective voice.